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'Grand Magic' by Eduardo De Filippo in a new version by John Murrell and Donato Santeramo

A World Premiere Translation now onstage at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Festival

Credit: David Hou. Pictured: Gordon S. Miller and Geraint Wyn Davies

Joe Szekeres

Tremendous elegance and intrigue in this stellar 25-member ensemble cast led by captivating performances of Geraint Wyn Davies and Gordon S. Miller.

It is 1950, in Naples, Italy, at the upscale Hotel Metropole. Otto Marvuglia (Geraint Wyn Davies), a renowned illusionist and magician, has fallen into hard times and is now reduced to performing predictable magic tricks at the Metropole. Many visitors, residents and guests pass their time playing cards, drinking, and talking about Calogero Di Spelta (Gordon S. Miller), a jealous husband of the beautiful Marta (Beck Lloyd).

Marta wishes to be with her lover, Mariano (Jordin Hall), because she cannot take her husband’s possessiveness, so he bribes Otto to make her disappear inside a magic box during one of his shows. It’s successful. Marta secretly exits off the stage and goes to the pier to meet Mariano; they motorboat past the people at the hotel who are confused over how Otto made Marta disappear.

Calogero is not fooled at all by this deception. When Marta does not reappear, Calogero tracks Otto down in his home, but the illusionist stands by his deception made with Marta and remains firm, even with the presence of a police detective. Otto affirms that Marta is still trapped inside the box. He then convinces Calogero that he can make his wife reappear so long as the jealous husband does not doubt his wife’s fidelity to him. If for a moment he ever did, Marta would disappear forever. Calogero will not surrender to this illusion about his marriage; this choice lasts four years.

Playwright Eduardo De Filippo has crafted a fascinating story that explores the line between reality and illusion. It begs the question, do people mean what they say and say what they mean?

Lorenzo Savoini's stunning set design depicts the luxurious Metropole's seaside porch. His lighting highlights the bright summery shades on the parasols and umbrellas. Francesca Callows’ costumes of colour, fabric, and texture showcase the social status of each character. The attention to detail in Ranil Sonnadara's sound design is fine. During the pre-show soundscape, I could hear the gentle lapping of waves against the shore.

Per the show's programme description, "Grand Magic" is a world-premiere translation by John Murrell and Donato Santeramo. Antoni Cimolino's astute direction has seamlessly intertwined the dual storylines of Otto and Calogero, resulting in a beautifully refined production with an air of sophistication. The moments of drama and despair intermingled with amusing humour create a sense of ambiguity about the connection between illusion and reality, leaving one pondering how much more intense it can get.

The production clips along at a realistically natural pace.

As Otto, Geraint Wyn Davies majestically moves around the stage with precision and intent both as a magician showman and a conman who wants to control Calogero and continue the game regarding Marta’s disappearance. Wyn Davies’ Otto uniquely gives the illusion that he remains in complete control regarding Marta’s wishes, but his interactions with Calogero and his family weigh heavily as the story continues.

Gordon S. Miller's performance remains solidly on par with Wyn Davies' in terms of intensity, particularly in the third act, where he convincingly portrays a broken, grey-haired man who can’t tell illusion from reality in the lies he has been fed over four years regarding Marta’s absence. The fact that both actors take their final bow together seems fitting.

As Zaira, Otto’s loyal wife, Sarah Orenstein’s witty banter and sharp wordplay with her husband becomes music to the ears while ensuring they do not become financially broke. Beck Lloyd’s Marta’s brief appearance delivers a believable performance of a young woman who has had enough of her husband’s control. Jamie Mac is both a dashing and demanding Gregorio, Calogero’s brother, who wants him declared insane.

Final Comments: Illusion and reality and the cross between are themes that have always intrigued me and how they come alive on the page or the stage. Watching some of the magic tricks Wyn Davies performs on stage still mesmerizes me, and the quickness accomplished with the sleight of hand movement.

Antoni Cimolino and his cast have undeniably brought to life an elegant tale filled with grand intrigue and magic.

Lovely work to see.

Running time: approximately two hours and 50 minutes with two intervals.

‘Grand Magic’ runs until September 29 at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford Ontario. For tickets: stratfordfestival.ca or call 1-800-567-1600.

‘GRAND MAGIC’ by Eduardo De Filippo in a new version by John Murrell and Donato Santeramo
World Premiere Translation
Directed by Antoni Cimolino
Set and Lighting: Lorenzo Savoini
Costume Designer: Francesca Callow
Composer: Wayne Kelso
Sound Designer: Ranil Sonnadara
Magic Consultant: David Ben

Performers: Elizabeth Adams, Hilary Adams, David Collins, Sarah Dodd, Thomas Duplessie, Justin Eddy, Christo Graham, Jordin Hall, Kim Horsman, Stephen Jackman-Torkoff, Matthew Kabwe, Germaine Konji, Beck Lloyd, Jamie Mac, Qianna MacGilchrist, Gordon S. Miller, Chanakya Mukherjee, Sarah Orenstein, Debbie Patterson, Tyler Rive, Khadijah Roberts-Abdullah, Andrew Robinson, Steve Ross, Tyrone Savage, Emilio Vieira, John Wamsley, Geraint Wyn Davies.

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